Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pool Talk

Guy:  "Where were you the other day?  We wondered what happened."
Me:  "I started back at school and had to be there early enough that it didn't work to come."
Guy:  "What are you doing?"
Me:  "I started a doctorate this Fall."
Guy:  "In what?"
Me:  "In ministry."
Guy:  "Wow.  Now there's something I have no interest in!"  (Walks away laughing.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Prayer Meeting

While the pastor is away, there will be no scheduled Saturday prayer meeting at the church.  Please gather on your own to pray.  Saturday afternoon prayer meeting will resume, D.V., on August 27th at 3PM.

Bible Study

While the pastor is away, there will be no Sunday morning Bible study.  In it's place, Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade will be leading a membership class.  Bible study will resume, D.V., on Sunday, August 28th, with Hosea chapter 10.

What's Happening?

The pastor is taking his vacation time to go to school for three weeks and then to actually take a week off at the beach.  So, he will not be available from July 18th through August 20th (excepting August 9th-12th, when he will be back).  He plans, D.V., to be in the pulpit on August 21st.  During this time, if you are in need, please call a member of the Consistory or the church office.  Thank you.

"First to the Jews" Sermon Acts 28:11-31

“First to the Jews”
[Acts 28:11-31]
July 17, 2011 Second Reformed Church

                Today, we come to the end of our look at the book of Acts.  Over the past three years we have read and heard Luke’s description of the growth of the early Church from the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost through the ministries of Peter and Paul and others.  After three years, what can we say?  What’s the point?

                Paul and his companions spent the storm season on the island of Malta and then boarded a ship bound for Italy, bearing the twin gods of Castor and Pollux on its bow.  (Castor and Pollux were, allegedly, the sons of Zeus – also called Jupiter – and they were the gods of sailors and navigators.)

                The first stop was on the eastern shore of the island of Sicily, at Syracuse – a day’s sail of about sixty miles – where they remained three days – perhaps while the owners of the ship engaged in trade.  Then, they sailed for another day to the “toe” of Italy, stopping at Rhegium.  Finally, sailing up the western coast of Italy, they landed in the port of Puteoli, and they left the ship.

                When they arrived in Puteoli, Paul found that there were Christians living in the city – we will remember, Paul had written the letter to the Romans some time earlier, so there were Christians in Italy prior to Paul’s arrival.  Whatever arrangements the centurion and soldiers were making allowed Paul to remain with the Christians for an entire week before he had to move on.

                From there, they had to walk the thirty-seven miles to Rome.

                As they walked towards Rome, word began to spread throughout Italy that Paul had finally arrived – not under the circumstances he had desired in his letter – but Paul had arrived.  And Christians came from the Forum of Appius and from Three Taverns and other cities – that they might walk and talk with Paul for awhile on his journey to Rome.  And Luke tells us that – on seeing his fellow Christians – Paul gave thanks to God and took courage.

                And we might ask, “Why?”  Hadn’t Paul already been visited by Jesus, Himself, as well as an angel, who comforted him and assured him that he would make it to Rome and preach the Gospel to Caesar Nero?

                Yes, that’s true.  And while the Promises of God are infallible and sure, so they are enough in-and-of themselves, God has condescended to our weakness and given us to help each other.  So let us understand first this morning that God has given us fellow Christians to be a comfort and encouragement to us for which we ought to thank God.

                Look around the sanctuary this morning:  God has given us each other to comfort each other – to encourage each other – to stand by each other in the good times and the bad.  We ought to give God thanks for each other, just as Paul did.

                After Paul spent time with these Christians on the road to Rome, he was comforted and encouraged for the work he knew God had for him to do in Rome.  And when he arrived in Rome, rather than be put in prison with the general populace, Paul was allowed to have a private room – perhaps because he had so proven himself on the voyage to Rome, perhaps because he was a Roman citizen.

                And after three days, Paul called the local leaders of the Jews of Rome to him, and when they arrived, he gave his defense, as Luke summarizes it:  First, “I have done nothing against the people or the customs of our forefathers, yet the Jews brought me to the Romans for punishment.”  Second, “The Romans found me innocent of all charges.”  Third, “The Jews were so insistent that I be put to death, that, for my own safety, I had no choice but to appeal to trial by Caesar.”  Fourth, “All I did – the reason I am in chains – was preach the Hope of Israel, as it is recorded in the Law and the Prophets.”

                What is “the Hope of Israel”?

                The Hope of Israel is that God would send a Messiah – a Savior – Who would make God’s people right with Him again.  And the primary sign of the Savior would be that He would be put to death and then physically rise from the dead.

                Our hope has not changed, because Paul explains that all those who believe in the Savior God sent are the Israel of God (cf. Romans 9).  We ought to understand, secondly, that Jesus is the One and Only Savior God has sent – the Only Savior God will ever send, and God has proven that Jesus is the Savior by physically raising Him from the dead.  And, therefore, we have the promise that we will also physically rise from the dead.  Our hope is Jesus; the Savior Who makes us right with God and will bring us – alive – into His Kingdom on earth.

                The Jews responded to Paul by telling him that they had not received any letters or any word from any individual from Jerusalem about Paul and what he taught and why he was now in prison.  However, they were interested to hear what he had to say – what he was teaching – because they had heard about the Way – also called “Christianity” – and they understood that everyone spoke against it – every Jew said that Christianity was a heresy – it was not true.

                Paul promised that he would explain himself and his teaching before anyone who would hear him.  And Luke tells us that Paul invited them to meet him at his lodging – at his house.  At some point, Paul had been moved from the prison and transferred to a house, which he was renting – as we see in verse thirty.  Paul would have been under some form of house arrest at this time, and he would have had a guard watching over him, but he had a great deal of liberty.  So, Paul invited all of the Jews of Rome to come hear him speak on the Hope of Israel.

                They came early in the morning, and Paul preached from early morning until evening testifying of the Kingdom of God to them, and expounding the Scripture – showing them that the Law and the Prophets were fulfilled in Jesus – the long-awaited Savior.  This is what Jesus did, as well, as Luke records, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-26, ESV).

                This was the pattern of Jesus and the apostles and the disciples – show how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies.  We also see that the order was to be first to the Jews:    Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27b).  And Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16, ESV).

                Let us remember, thirdly, that the Gospel that we believe in – the Hope we believe in – is the fulfillment of the promise to the Jews.  Christianity is a historical religion, which takes place and is proven in history.  We can look at prophecies that were made and see them fulfilled in Jesus.  “Here’s what was prophesied for the Jews.  Here is where it was fulfilled in history.  So, it is true.”

                But what happened?  After Paul preached for about twelve hours, Luke tells us, “And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.”  How could that be?  How could Paul show them that the Law and the Prophets say that the Savior would be this and that and do this and that and show them that Jesus was this and that and Jesus did this and that – and still some say “No, I don’t believe”?

                Paul quoted from the Septuagint translation of the book of Isaiah, “Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and with their eyes they can barely see, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them’” (Isaiah 6:9-10, Septuagint).

                God is saying that we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Jesus is the One Savior that God has sent for all those who will believe – but it was never God’s intention that everyone would believe –  and some will refuse to believe, even when the facts of Christianity are put before them.

                When Paul quoted this text, the Jews began to walk out, and Paul said, “Therefore, [since you refuse to believe], let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, they will listen.”  Paul talked about this in Romans 9 – since the Jews rejected Jesus, God sent His Salvation to the non-Jews – to the Gentiles.

                We see, fourth, that in Rome, God fulfilled the prophecy made way back in the beginning of the book of Acts – some thirty years earlier, when Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV)

                At the beginning of the book of Acts, we saw the Gospel being preached in Jerusalem.  It went out through all of Judea and Samaria – through the territories of Israel and the descendants of Israel.  And then the Gospel spread to the Gentile lands, finally ending up – now – in Rome – at the end of the known – civilized – world.  God promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would indwell them and lead them through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth – symbolically, Rome.  With Paul’s ministry in Rome – and preaching to Caesar Nero, this had happened.

                Luke ends his book by telling us that Paul lived for two years in this house that he rented in Rome.  He welcomed anyone who would come to hear him preach and teach about the Kingdom of God and Salvation in Jesus Alone.  And he did so with all boldness and without hindrance.  Paul was allowed to preach and teach from his house and no one tried to stop him for two years; Paul didn’t quietly preach the Gospel in his house, he preached boldly, and no one lay a hand on him.

                Is that amazing?  After being hunted down and driven to Rome, no one tried to kill him, no one tried to stop him from preaching salvation in Jesus Alone – for two years he freely and boldly preached the Gospel.

                And then?

                Well, that’s it; that’s where the book of Acts ends.   And we might ask, “Why?”  Why isn’t the death of Paul and the other apostles recorded for us in the Holy Scripture?

                Because the point of the book of Acts is not Paul or Peter or Timothy or Luke or Barnabas or John Mark or any of the other people we have met over the past three years.  Yes, these people are important and the history is given to us to guide us as we follow after God, but it’s not the point – it’s not the main theme -- it’s not the central theme – it’s not what’s most important.  Neither is the point you or me or anything we might do or not do in response to what we have read and heard – though we ought to be different people than we were at the beginning of our study.

                The point of the book of Acts – the point of every word of Scripture – is Jesus.  God the Son came to earth in the Person of Jesus.  Jesus lived a perfect – righteous – life under God’s Law – He never sinned.  Jesus suffered and was put to death, taking on God’s Wrath for our sins – standing in our place – crediting His Righteousness to our accounts so God would look at us and see someone who has perfectly kept the Law without sinning.  Jesus physically rose from the dead, and now we have the assurance of a physical resurrection.  Jesus ascended back to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of the Father, where He now reigns Sovereign over all of Creation – and all things are coming to pass for the Sake and the Glory of Jesus.  And Jesus will come again – to judge the living and the dead, and to bring in the new heavens and the new earth – where all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation will live with Him for all of eternity.

                The point is Jesus.

                The apostles and the disciples went forth proclaiming Jesus at home and to the ends of the world because He physically rose from the dead.  There are many other wonderful things in the Bible, but without the Physical Resurrection of Jesus – and all of the things it proves – you’ve missed the point.

                Before time began, God chose to create, and He planned that the Son would come to earth in the Person of Jesus to save us from our sins and the Wrath of God for our sin – to make us right with God – eternally.

                God chose a people to bless, and God has kept every promise He ever made, including that Jesus would be born, a Son of David.  Jesus lived, died, rose in the Body in which He died and then ascended back to the Father.

                Jesus sent the apostles and the disciples – and us – to go out – to tell others Who Jesus is.

                The point is Jesus.  Our Hope is Jesus.  Our future is Jesus.

                That’s why we don’t have all the facts about the people through whom God worked – because it’s not the point.  There are secular historians who report what happened to them, but Luke does want us to get confused:  the Work of Jesus is not done.  Jesus is still working through us.  Jesus is the Only Savior.  Jesus proved Himself by physically rising from the dead.

                God has given us each other that we would comfort and encourage and help each other.

                The Hope that we have is that Jesus is the Savior God has sent, Whom He proved by physically raising Him from the dead.

                The Hope that we have in Jesus is first the Hope of Israel.

As God promised, that Hope was – and continues to be – preached and given to the Jews, and God has graciously given this Hope also to the Gentiles – the non-Jews – even to the ends of the world.  We see this fulfilled in the end of the book of Acts.

And we understand – at the end of all this history – the point is that God the Savior, Jesus, came and physically rose from the dead, proving that He is the Only Savior – the Only Way to be right with God.

Let’s worship Him through prayer:
Almighty God, we thank You for the record of the early Church as Luke has recorded it in the book of Acts.  We thank You for being Jesus, the One God, the Only Savior, and we worship You for Who You are and praise You for Your Mercy and Grace shown to us.  Lord, use us that You would receive all the Glory.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Membership Class

Our latest membership class begins today, July 17th, at 9 AM and will run -- at least -- through August 21st.  Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade will be leading this class.  You don't have to join the church just because you attend the class -- so come, and let us learn together and see if this is where God would have you serve.

July Sermons

Hmm, I forgot to list the July sermons...  Well, you can see what I have preached thus far.  Today, D.V., I am preaching on Acts 28:11-31, "First to the Jews," which will end the book of Acts.

July 19th and 26th, Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade will be preaching.

Please join us for worship at 10:30 AM.  Jesus is worth it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Apparently...

I went to Home Depot on Thursday, and I ran into one of our women who was there with one of her friends whom I had met before.  The friend didn't recognize me, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, rather than my black clerics.  After she told me she hadn't recognized me out of the uniform, she said, "You're kinda cute."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Underwear!

From The Rule of St. Benedict, ch. 55:

"Brothers going on a journey should get underclothing from the wardrobe.  On their return they are to wash it and give it back."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Humble Service" Sermon: Acts 28:1-10

“Humble Service”
[Acts 28:1-10]
July 10, 2011 Second Reformed Church

What does it mean to serve humbly?  And why should we serve humbly?

            After fifteen days of hurricane, the ship bound for Italy that was carrying Paul and 275 others, including a number of prisoners, crashed on a reef just off the shore of Malta.  Those who could swim swam to shore, and those who could not swim held on to pieces of the crumbling ship and were brought to shore by the current.  This occurred according to the Will of God – all 276 persons were saved from the wreck for Paul’s sake – that all those travelling with him would know that Paul was truly speaking for the One and Sovereign God.

            Once they were all on the island, they discovered that they were on Malta, just south of Sicily.  And the native people, who were neither Romans, nor Greeks, but whose nation had been annexed by the Roman Empire, welcomed them, as Luke records, with “unusual kindness.”  And they immediately prepared fires for all of the people who had landed, because it was still raining, and it was cold.

            The Maltese were not merely kind, but they were “unusually kind” to the 276 people – sailors, prisoners, soldiers, and all – who had washed up on their shore.  And we might wonder why.  The Maltese people were known, so it was not just that Luke was surprised that they were as kind as they were, but for some reason, under this great imposition of 276 people, they were even kinder than expected.  Why?

            We’re not told, but it is not unreasonable to believe that God interceded and made them willing to be “unusually kind” – to make Paul and the rest of the people pleasant in their sight, so they would welcome them with open arms and give them humble service.

            Paul was also serving – it is reasonable to believe that the chains of the prisoners had been unlocked so they could get to land safely.  Now, Paul was going about the shore, collecting wood for the fire.  Notice, he did not stand by while others worked – he did not tell them to gather the wood, because “he” got them to shore.  No, Paul immediately stepped in and did what he was able –  to humbly serve and provide for others.

            And Luke tells us that Paul picked up a bundle of sticks, and when he tried to place them in the fire, a viper – and the word that is used here is a word that means “venomous viper” – there is no getting around the fact that this was a venomous snake – a viper saved itself from the fire by fastening itself onto Paul’s hand.

            The reaction of the people was normal:  first, they assumed he would quickly die; he had just been bitten by a venomous snake.  Second, they assumed that God – or the gods – had sent the snake to achieve justice.  They surmised that Paul must be a murder for Justice to follow after him this way – that when he did not die in the sea, God – or the gods – came after him to kill him through the means of the viper.

            But Paul didn’t die:  He shook the snake off into the fire.  He did not swell up; he did not collapse.  He did not die.  Who could survive the bite of a venomous snake?  Only a god – so they surmised that Paul was a god.  (Which could lead to many other questions, but we need not go into them now.)

            We will remember this was not the first time that Paul was mistaken for a god:  When Paul and Barnabas healed the lame man in Lystra, the people thought they were gods and began to offer sacrifices and to worship them.  Paul rightly rebuked the people of Lystra and denied that Barnabas and he were gods, in fact, he told them who the Real God is, and they tried to kill him (cf. Acts 14).

            Paul did not correct the Maltese.  So, they probably just talked about the possibility of his being a god under their breath, and they didn’t try to offer a sacrifice to him or worship him.  It may be that only Luke heard the comment.

            At some point that day, they brought Paul and his 275 companions to the Chief of the island, a man named Publius.  Publius also showed uncommon kindness and humble service by providing for all 276 castaways for three days.  At the drop of a hat, Publius provided food, clothing, and a place to stay -- for 276 people – until proper lodging could be found for them.  (We find out that they stay on Malta for the storm season – three months.)

            Why did Publius put himself out like that?  Why did he show such humble service to this crowd of people – even prisoners? 

Again, we’re not told, but it is not unreasonable to believe that God interceded and made him willing to be “unusually kind” – to make Paul and the rest of the people pleasant in his sight, so he would welcome them with open arms and give them humble service – providing for all their needs for three days.

Now, Publius’ father was sick in bed with fevers and dysentery – modern scholars believe it was probably caused by a parasite which is common to the milk on Malta.  And Paul visited Publius’ father, lay hands on him, prayed to God for him (so no one would be confused – the healing came from God and not from Paul), and God healed him.

When word got out that Paul could heal people of their diseases – by the Power of God – Luke tells us that every sick person on the island of Malta came to see Paul, and every one of them was cured.  (We can assume that as Paul healed the people, he directed them to Salvation in Jesus Alone.  He would have explained to them that he could not heal them of his own, but was healing them by the Power of God in him.  He would have explained that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived under God’s Law, was put to death for the sin of all those who would believe, as foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures – which they may or may not have been familiar with – suffered under the Wrath of God, died, was buried, rose from the dead – in His Physical Body, as foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, and ascended back to the Throne of the Son at the Right Hand of God the Father.  That is the Gospel, right?  So, he would have been sure to tell them.)

At the end of their three months with them, the 276 secured a new ship and readied to set said for Italy – just around the island.  And the Maltese, again, showed unusual kindness, giving them – as the text literally says – “honors with many honors” – they provided them with everything they would need to make the journey safely – food, supplies, etc.  Again, why?

They may have been so kind at this point because Paul had healed everyone on the island, but still, that was God’s intervention.

So, the 276 swim to shore, they were treated with unusually kindness and humble service, Paul exemplified humble service before them, Paul was bitten by a venomous snake and was unaffected, the Chief of the island provided for all of them with unusual kindness and humble service for three days until lodging could be arranged for all of them for the three months they would stay on the island, Paul lay hands on the sick father of the Chief and healed him in the Name of Jesus, then he healed everyone else on the island, surely preaching the Gospel at the same time, and with unusual kindness, the Maltese gave them all the provisions they will need to get to where they were going in Italy.

Another thing we see in this history is the fulfillment of a prophecy that Jesus made – a promise that Jesus made:  “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs shall accompany those who believe:  in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15b-18, ESV)  And in this morning’s text, we see exactly this occurring:  Paul was not hurt by the serpent, and he laid hands on the sick and they recovered.

Let me ask the questions again:  What does it mean to serve humbly?  And why should we serve humbly?

Paul gives us the answers as he writes, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11, ESV).

What does it mean to serve humbly?

It means that we will look at people as more significant than we are – that others have greater worth than we do. It means that we will look out for the interests of all people, not just those we like; we will seek to do everything we can to better others’ lives, especially in the proclaiming of the Gospel to them.  We will not look down on people and make fun of them and seek to get things over on them.  It means, when we come in contact with someone we don’t like and don’t want to deal with, we find a way to serve them – to do something for them – to show love of neighbor – as we are commanded – to even that person we don’t like.

For example, there are a few ministers in our Classis that I do not get along with.  We have very different understandings of the Scripture and what it means to be a Christian.  However, I do not seek to tear those people down – as difficult as it is some times.  Instead, I am willing to work with them for the sake of the Gospel and the good of the Classis and all those we serve.

Serving humbly does not mean that we have to do everything anyone tells us to do.  We are not seeking to be “used” – to be a “doormat.”   First and foremost, we are to stand for the Truth of the Gospel – we must speak Salvation in Jesus Alone.  Not speaking because someone does not want us to speak about believing in Jesus Alone for Salvation is not humble service.

Serving humbly does not mean that we enter into a codependent or masochistic relationship.  There are appropriate boundaries which ought to be kept for our health and sanity.

Humble service is helping someone without any thought of reward, if you are able and it is not sin and it does not cause you to sin.

But why should we serve humbly?  Why should we do things for other people?  Why should we care about other peoples’ life – especially if it is someone we don’t get along with?

Because God Almighty, in humble service, came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended back to the Father – just as the Scriptures said He would – to glorify His Father and to make us right with God.
Why should we serve humbly?  Because the Almighty God became Man, lived as we live, tempted as we are tempted, but never sinned.  He submitted to the mad crowds and religious hypocrites and allowed Himself to be tortured and then killed by crucifixion – the most horrible form of death ever invented by man.

Why should we serve humbly?  Because God raised Jesus from the death, returned Him to His Throne, gave Him the Name that is above every name – that every man, woman, child, and creature throughout all time and all of Creation, should worship Him.

Why should we serve humbly?  Because Jesus is worthy of our service.  If you are a Christian, Paul tell us that Jesus is worth our putting aside ourselves and serving humbly in thanks to Him that others would know Jesus for Who He is.

            Let us pray:
           Almighty God, we can never thank You enough for being Who You are and for making us right with You through Salvation in Jesus Alone.  You have called us to obedience in loving God and loving neighbor, and we confess it is not always easy to love our neighbor, but for the sake of Christ and His Worth, and the Incalculable Gift that He is, we ask that You would humble us and make us servants, as Jesus was.  And may You receive all the glory.  For it is in Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Consistory Dinner

We are planning (D.V.) to have our Consistory dinner to honor Marla James and June Angelo tomorrow evening, Wednesday, July 6, 2011, at 6:30 P.M. at the Appian Way in Orange NJ.  The cost is $35.  Please call Maria Rivera for more information.  973-762-1479.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Review: "The Global-Warming Deception"

I have just read The Global-Warming Deception:  How a Secret Elite Plans to Bankrupt America and Steal Your Freedom by Grant R. Jeffrey.  (You can purchase it at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1400074436/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img.)

My reaction to the title was to sigh, “Oh, boy,” but in reading Jeffrey’s work, I must say he has done, on the whole, a commendable job in documenting why the global-warming alarmists are alarmists.

Jeffrey documents that the earth’s temperature does indeed change – up and down – in cycles.  The media, and Al Gore in particular, has exaggerated the “evidence” for global-warming out of any rational proportion, humans and fossil fuels are not the primary contributor of increased CO2 emissions (he cites solar flares, I would point out the cattle that we force breed and genetically hurry from the womb to the plate cause far more CO2 build up that all of humanity – and even that is nothing compared with the hype presented), and, after “Climate Gate,” it is well documented that the major proponents of the theory have purposefully distorted and hidden scientific evidence that proves the theory wrong (117ff).

Jeffrey writes about how it was not all that long ago that some were arguing that a build-up of CO2 gasses would cause a sudden ice age (65ff).  I well remember being taught that in the public schools – the next ice age is right around the bend, and all of human civilization will change because of it.  Well….  (I also remember learning in the public schools that we had to learn the metric system because no one would use the old European style of measurement for more than another decade, but that’s another story….)

Jeffrey documents that the only actual temperature data we have begins way back in the 1970’s – the rest of the “data” we have is inferred (77ff).
In chapter ten, he loosely connects global-warming to the push by some in the same camp to have mandatory population control – which – theoretically, would reduce CO2 emissions and make humanity able to survive on the reduced economic existence proposed for the bottom 80% of humanity.

I was waiting for chapter ten, in which Jeffrey rightly explains that God gave humanity dominion over the earth – meaning that we are to care for it and protect it, and we show – wisely and truthfully.  We recycle everything we can at home and in our church, and we waste as little as possible, use things until they are unusable, some of us are even antivivisectionists and vegetarians and vegans out of care for each other and the Creation.  (Jeffrey does not go this “far” in his book, but I find it a logical and biblical progress.)

However, it is at this point that Jeffrey, in my opinion, “jumps the shark.”  Jeffrey, finally, turns to the books of Revelation and through some interesting meshing together of facts with interpretive bits, he concludes that the global-warming “deception” is a plot by the Whore of Babylon, the Roman Catholic Church, to bring about one world religion and one world government, which will also bring in the reign of the Anti-Christ.  I really wish he had just stuck with cataloguing the evidence of the lack of evidence for global-warming.  This interpretation of Revelation will push many people away from all the good of the book, in part because it is not well documented or argued, and because it is, in my understanding, a misunderstanding of the book of Revelation.  I am thankful that he argues for the Sovereignty of God in history, but I cannot recommend this book to the general population.  It is a good reference for data against the excesses of global warming theory, but it falls apart in his interpretation of prophecy.
[This review appears on Amazon.com and on my blog.  I received this book for free form WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.] 

Happy Fourth of July

Mother to child in front of my house:  "If you don't shut up, there'll be no Fourth of July!"

"God of the Storm" Sermon: Acts 27:1-44

“God of the Storm”
[Acts 27:1-44]
July 3, 2011 Second Reformed Church

            The time had come.  Paul had appeared before King Agrippa, and Agrippa had told the governor, Festus to go ahead and send Paul to Rome to be tried by Caesar as he requested.  He told him to send a letter to Caesar explaining that though the Jews asked that Paul receive the death penalty, they found nothing to hold him for according to Roman Law – he had not broken Roman Law,  However, Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to be tried by Caesar, and so, he was begin sent, with no changers against him by the Empire of Rome, but because Paul insisted on being tried by Caesar, and they could not go against his request as a Roman citizen.
            (Eusebius records that the Jews were so enraged at Paul being allowed to travel to Rome to be tried by Caesar that they took James, the brother of Jesus, brought him to the highest peak of the Temple, and threw him off.  When they checked him on the ground, they found that he was not yet dead, so they took bats and beat him to death.)
            Paul could not be sent immediately, because they had to find a full boat that was going to Italy, so it probably took a few weeks before they sailed.  Eventually one was found and Paul, with other prisoners, was loaded onto the ship, along with Paul’s friends, Luke and Aristarchus.  The centurion in charge, and Augustan Cohort (which means he was likely one of Nero’s bodyguards) named Julius was in charge.
            The first leg of their trip took them up the coast of Israel and across the southern coast of modern-day Turkey.  They sailed from Caesarea to Sidon – just north of Israel – and Paul was allowed to get off of the ship and meet with his friends there and have his wounds tended by them.  Then they sailed north of the Island of Cyprus to Myrna in south central Turkey.  There they changed to an Egyptian cargo ship that was headed for Rome, as it sold wheat from port to port.
            The weather was getting rough as it was past the Passover.  (The storm season in the Mediterranean is from late September to early February).  Thus, they travelled slowly across the southern coast of Turkey to Cndius at the southwest corner of the country.  From there they had intended to sail straight west, between the southern coast of Greece and the northern coast of Crete.  But it was too late – the weather was getting worse, so they went south, around the southern coast of Crete, landing in Fair Havens in south central Crete

            At this point, they were in storm season; it was very dangerous to sail, and ships usually ported for the winter.  Paul even spoke up and urged them to remain in Fair Havens until after the winter for the sake of the ship, the cargo, and their lives.  But Julius discussed the matter with the pilot and the owner of the ship, and they believed it was still early enough in the season to travel, and, if they made it to Phoenix on the far side of the island, they would have a much better place to spend the winter, so they sailed on.

            As they left the port, a south wind blew gently, and they believed they had made the right decision, but as they got out into the open water, a hurricane from the northeast blew in and captured them.  They lost control of the ship and the hurricane blew them along.  With great effort, they kept from crashing into the small islands of Cauda and Syrtis.

            The ship was being tossed to and fro, and rain poured down, and the ship filled with water.  The crew went to the back of the ship and made sure that the lifeboat was securely fastened.  Then they pulled the supports tight around the boat.  (There would have been a number of ropes around the whole of the ship to help keep planks from breaking loose in a storm; they would pull these ropes tightly to secure the integrity of the ship.)  They also pulled down the sails.

            The second day of the hurricane, they threw much of the cargo overboard – everything except the food and water – to keep the ship afloat.  And on the third, they threw out the anchor in the hopes that it would slow them from crashing into anything.

The hurricane continued and did not stop, and Luke tells us that it was not a small hurricane – this was a fierce storm which continued for days.  It was so severe that they did not see the sun or moon or stars for many days – it was constant night and storm.
Then one night, an angel of God – the God Whom Paul worshipped – appeared to him and told him not to be afraid of the storm, but to be comforted, because he must preach the Gospel to Nero.  And God promised, not only would Paul be saved, but everyone on board would be saved for Paul’s sake.
Are you reminded of another storm?
“On that day, when evening had come [Jesus] said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side [of the sea].’  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace!  Be still!’  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?’  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who is this then, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (Mark 4:35-41, ESV).
Let us understand first this morning, that God is Sovereign over the storm.  In fact, God is Sovereign over all of Creation.  Nothing and no one act outside of God’s Will and/or Permission.  And everything must occur according to God’s Promises and God’s Plan.
That does not mean that we do not sin, because we do.  What it means is that no one can stop God from doing exactly what God intends to do.  And history will occur exactly as God has planned it to occur – including our sin.
So Paul stood before the men and told them, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss.  Yet now I urge you to take heart, for their will be no loss of life among you, but only the ship.”  And then he told them how the angel of God had come to him.  “So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.  But we must run aground on some island.”
Paul gave them a divinely sanctioned, “I told you so,” and asked them to listen to him now.  He asked them to listen to him because God – the God of the storm – the God Who holds all Creation in His Hand and causes it to act according to His Will – God had sent a message to him:  For Paul’s sake, every person on the ship would live through the storm if they stayed on the ship.
Does that seem strange to you?  Why would God save all of their lives for Paul’s sake?
God spoke to Abraham and said, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3, ESV).
And Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.  And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?  How then does it have weeds?’   He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’  So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’  But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the harvest time, I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24b-30, ESV).
And Paul wrote, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will the thing molded say to its molder, ‘Why did you make me like this?’  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory – even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from along the Gentiles?  As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people, I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved, I will call, “beloved.” And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they then will be called ‘sons of the living God’’” (Romans 9:20-26, ESV).
Let us understand, second this morning, that God blesses all the peoples of the world for the sake of the elect.  God does not bless anyone because he or she is deserving of blessing, but God blesses everyone that the elect – all those who will ever come to faith in Jesus Alone for Salvation -- so they will understand the Greatness and the Glory of God.
The hurricane continued, and on the fourteenth day, the sailors saw waves breaking, and they thought it must mean they were close to land.  So they took a sound and found that   the water was, indeed, getting shallow.  In fear of the ship crashing, they ran to the life boat hoping to escape for land before anyone else found out what they had discovered.  But Paul was alerted, and he told the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”  So, the soldiers, who now believed that Paul knew what he was talking about, cut the life boat free, and it was lost into the ocean.
Remember, God’s promise was if they all stayed in the ship and crashed the ship on the shore, for Paul’s sake, God would save them all.  But if they left the ship, prior to it crashing, they would die.  And in fact they would have.  Scholars have mapped the area and found a place south of Greece, where, for a short time, reefs jut up in the water, giving the appearance of land being near.  In fact, land was not near, and right past the reefs, the ocean plummets down into the depths again.  If the men had gotten into the lifeboat, they would have died at sea.  (Of course, if the view was clear, they would have known they were not near land, but it was pitch black in the storm, so they could only measure the depth of the sea, not how far they were from land.)
Luke tells us from the beginning of the storm, all of the men had fasted – no one had eaten in fourteen days.  So, Paul urged them to eat, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing.  Therefore, I urge you to take some food.  It will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.”  And then Paul took bread, and gave thanks to God before all the men of the ship, and he broke it and gave it to them all, and they ate.  Luke tells us there were 276 persons on board.
As tempting as the language is to think this was the Lord’s Supper, it could not be, for three reasons:  first, he did not bless and share the cup, and more importantly, second, Paul would not have offered the Lord’s Supper to non-Christians, and also, thirdly, he would not have told them to eat their fill – the Lord’s Supper was never intended to fill our stomachs.
However, we might consider for a moment the fact that the Lord’s Supper is also called the “Eucharist.”  “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.”  So there is a parallel between the Lord’s Supper and any other food – and it is this – we are always to give thanks to God for our food.  Most of us were brought up praying and giving thanks for our food -- and it is a good thing to do, as it helps us remember that everything we have is from God.  Surely, the Great Eucharist is the Lord’s Supper, in which we give thanks for the “meal” of Jesus, God’s Son.  But we ought to eat our coffee hour and all meals eucharistically, giving thanks to God Who has supplied it for us.  That is a third thing we ought to understand this morning.
After eating, they threw the rest of the food overboard, hoping to keep the ship afloat by lessening her weight again. 
On the fifteenth day, the skies began to clear, and though they did not recognize the coast, the men could see land in the distance.  In looking at it, and no longer doubting Paul, they determined that they might crash the ship into a sandbar between two reefs and be saved.  So they cut the anchors loose, and pulled up the sail, and began careening toward the beach.  But they struck one of the reefs and were stuck, and the ship began to break up in the surf.
Now, some of the soldiers feared that if they jumped in the ocean to swim to shore, some of the prisoners might try to escape, and then they would be held responsible for them and punished, so they determined it was best to kill all of the prisoners.  But Julius, Nero’s bodyguard, the centurion, had faith in Paul and his God and wanted to save him, and he prevented them from killing the prisoners.
Julius instructed those who could swim to jump into the surf and swim for shore, and those who could not swim, to grab a piece of the crumbling ship, trusting that Paul’s God would bring them to shore as He promised.  And all 276 persons were safely brought to shore – of an island they would find out in the next chapter, was Malta – a small island south of Sicily.
And so we see, fourthly, that God will bring to pass whatsoever He wills; God cannot fail to keep His promises.
As we turn to the Lord’s Supper and prepare to meet Jesus in the elements, let us remember what we have seen:  God is the Sovereign God over the storm and all Creation.  God blesses all people for the sake of the elect – those who believe savingly in Jesus.  Since God provides us with everything we have, we always have reason to give Him thanks, and we ought to thank Him for everything we receive from His Loving Hand.  And finally, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills, without fail; God keeps His Promises.
            Since all these things are true, let us trust that God will bring us to and through many things until He brings us to His Purpose for us and His Promise to us.

Let us pray:
Almighty God of the storm, and our Loving Father, we face many storms in life, and we are also blessed beyond expectation or worth.  Help us to trust You at all times and give thanks, knowing You are our Sovereign God, Loving Father, and Risen Savior.  For it is in You Alone that we can survive the storm.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

"Zeal for Your House" Sermon: John 2:13-17

 “Zeal for your House”
[John 2:13-17]
June 30, 2011 Old First Presbyterian

            What does it mean to say that Jesus had “zeal for [His] Father’s house”?  And what does it mean for us today?

            The Feast of Passover was at hand, so Jesus went to Jerusalem to the Temple to worship.  We will remember that the Temple was the House of God.  It contained the “holy of holies” where on the high priest could only go once a year, and then it had courtyards around it – for the Jewish men, then for the Gentile believers and women.  It was a place of holiness and purity.

            When Jesus entered the Temple, He found that people were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and there were tables with money changers.  When Jesus saw them, He was filled with righteous anger – an “inflexible righteousness” (Pink, 97).  Why?

            We might think that Jesus got angry because people were selling things in the Temple, but that is not the case.  It was standard practice for the sake of the worshipers that the animal sellers and the moneychangers were in the Temple.  Remember, the major things that were offered – sacrificed – in the Temple were animals – and people were coming from all over Israel – and the known world.  Many of them would not have been able to bring animals with them – they animals could well have died, been killed, or stolen on the way.  Also, the Temple had its own currency for monetary gifts.  The Temple did not accept money other than its own, so people had to trade their foreign money in for Temple currency.  So Jesus was not angry about the selling of animals ro the changing of money – those were good and useful and approved practices in the Temple.

            So what was Jesus angry about?

            Jesus said, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”  And. “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13b, ESV).

            Jesus was angry because the sellers of animals were selling dishonestly, and the money changers were changing money dishonestly.  The animal sellers may have been selling animals that were sick rather than pure and healthy animals, which God required.  They may have been overcharging for the animals, knowing that the people had nowhere else to go to get the animals they needed for sacrifice.  And the money changers were likely purposefully giving the wrong change – using inaccurate weights and measures.  Jesus was angry because they were lying to make a profit off of the people trying to worship. What they were doing is committing idolatry in the Temple of the God of Israel.

            Paul wrote, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impunity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5, ESV).  Paul tells his readers that they are to put away the earthly, sinful behaviors in which they once lived – one of which is covetousness.  What is covetousness?  It’s desiring something that another person has, believing that you deserve it more.

            Covetousness would be like my saying, “I should have Donald Trump’s money, because I would use it better.”  Or, “My neighbor has a lawn service take care of her yard, while I have to take care of my own yard.  That’s not fair – I should have the lawn service, not her, because I’m more deserving of it.”  Covetousness is more than just greed, which says, “I deserve this.”  Covetousness says, “I deserve this more than you.”

            Why is covetousness idolatry?  For the same reason greed is idolatry: it replaces God as our supreme delight with things.  We put things – and specifically other people’s things – in the place of God.  Things become more dear to us than God.

            That is what happened in the Temple: the animal sellers and money changers had a legitimate role to play in helping people to worship, but they had perverted their place with idolatry, with covetousness, with robbery.  They were not giving the people the animal or the change that their money was worth, so they were stealing from them.  They were saying, “I deserve your money more than you do.”  They were desecrating the Temple and profaning the Name of God and His Worship.  That is why Jesus was angry.

            So, let us understand that the things that are right to do in worship may be done sinfully.  For example, it is good and right to sing to the Lord, but if we sing – and sing loudly – to make sure everyone hears how wonderful our voice is – how much better our voice is from everyone else’s – that is sin.

            Now, we might ask if Jesus had a right to be angry – and especially a right to react as severely as He did – overthrowing the tables, casting the sales people out, and driving them out with a whip. 

            The answer is “yes,” for two reasons:

            First, Jesus was right to act in anger the way He did, because Jesus was defending the holiness – the hallowedness of the Name of His Father.  Jesus was making it clear that the Temple was to be kept holy – set apart for God – God is very protective of how He will be worshiped.

            Second, Jesus was right to act in anger the way he did, because, if Jesus’ Father is the Almighty God – the God of Israel, then Jesus is also the same One God – the God for Whom the Temple was built.  So, what they were doing was profaning His Name as Deity.

            Then the disciples remembered what David had prophesied in Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

            What is “zeal”?  Zeal is intense enthusiasm or devotion.  Zeal is being totally committed, sold-out, totally obsessed with something or someone.

            Jesus was intensely enthusiastic about the Temple and it’s holiness.  Jesus was intensely devoted to the Temple and it’s holiness.  Jesus was totally committed to the Temple and it’s holiness.  Jesus was completely sold-out to the Temple and it’s holiness.  Jesus was totally obsessed with the Temple and it’s holiness.  Because He was whole-heartedly devoted to His Father and the holiness of His Father’s Name.

            What are you zealous about?  For what or whom would you cross an ocean, a desert, climb a mountain, risk everything you have and everything you are?  Is there anything or anyone?

            Jesus said, “For the sake of the purity and holiness of the Temple, for the sake of My Father’s Name – and My Name, I am willing to throw all of you out of the Temple.”  The holy reverence of God’s Temple and God’s Name was so great for Jesus, He was willing to cause a huge, public scene.

            What are you zealous about?

            The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., but our Triune God – the Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit still live and reign, Sovereign over all Creation.  And Jesus taught us to pray, beginning this way, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:6b, ESV).

            What do we mean when we petition God, “Hallowed be your name”?  We are asking that God would be zealous for His Name – that God would see that His Name is known and used rightly and not wrongly.  We also petition God to make us zealous for His Name – that we would use it rightly and not wrongly.

            Christians, Jesus was zealous to preserve and draw attention to the holiness of His Father’s Name.  We have been called to preserve and draw attention to the holiness of God, our Father’s, Name.   Do we love God enough to zealous for His Name?  Are we devoted enough?

            Let us strive to be zealous for the holiness of God’s Name, doing all we can to show God for Who He is, speaking the Truth of the Gospel – that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived under the Law, suffered, died, rose, and ascended back to His Throne at the Right Hand of the Father – saying and doing those things that hallow the Name of God.

            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we thank You for being zealous for You Name.  Help us to be zealous for it that we might be joyful as Your children.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.